There is something beautiful about Canada’s engineering graduation tradition, the Iron Ring and the Ritual Calling of an Engineer. Some UVA Engineering students want in on the idea, albeit in their own way.

The students — computer science and mathematics dual major Ryan Torbic, aerospace and mechanical engineering dual major Caleb Mallicoat, computer engineering major CJ Rogers and systems engineering major Nick Scoggins — are trying to create a UVA Engineering version of the Ritual Calling of an Engineer. The team designed a ceremony as a final project in Department of Engineering and Society professor Kathryn “Kay” Neeley’s section of Science, Technology and Society 4600: The Engineer, Ethics and Professional Responsibility.

Canada’s Ritual Calling of an Engineer, also known as the Iron Ring Ceremony, is a private service in which students graduating from Canadian engineering programs receive an iron ring and recite an obligation to be conscientious and responsible in their professional duties. The ring, to remain on the pinkie of the wearer’s working hand, is an ever-present reminder of the pledge.

The writer and poet Rudyard Kipling designed the ritual in 1922 at the request of the past presidents of the Engineering Institute of Canada. The presidents took the action in response to engineering failures in the construction of the Quebec Bridge, which had claimed dozens of lives.

Neeley’s assignment required student teams to present on a topic intriguing enough to want to know more about, and that “promises to provide resources for your own moral imagination as you encounter ethical challenges and make major decisions in your career and life.” She included the project on a list of ideas when she handed out the assignment, but noted that it had originated among students during a group discussion earlier in the semester. She was thrilled when a team picked the topic.

“It had the potential to be a really interesting expression of Virginia engineering identity,” Neeley said.

The team chose the project topic in part to celebrate their shared experiences, Torbic said. “We’ve all found the School of Engineering to be an incredibly tight-knit group, and it seemed natural to want to celebrate us making it to the finish line.”

Scoggins said the emphasis on building community within the practice of engineering was also attractive. “We hoped to design something similar to the Ring Ceremony, but with a conscious emphasis on ethics and moral practices within the specific community of engineers at UVA,” he said.

To achieve a uniquely UVA Engineering character, the team incorporated the school’s core values — societal impact, leadership, innovation, excellence through diversity, and collegiality — into the ceremony and its visual representation. In lieu of a ring, they envision each student receiving a cube paperweight with the sides inscribed with the values.

Drawing of proposed cube signifying UVA Engineering values

A team of UVA Engineering students developed the concept of a cube paperweight inscribed with the school’s core values — societal impact, leadership, innovation, excellence through diversity, and collegiality — to serve as a visual reminder to alumni of their professional obligations.

The team decided on a fall ceremony during Family Weekend, opting for a more open version than Canada’s, which allows only those who wear the ring to attend. Components could include an address by the dean of the school; a video presentation highlighting the class members’ achievements, such as awards, competition victories and significant research projects; a short address by a science, technology and society faculty member on engineering’s place in history; and the conferring of the cube. Finally, there would be a general “Call to Engineers,” followed by specific calls for each discipline. The disciplinary calls are to be written by representatives of the major and are intended to evolve with time.

“Engineering issues are not static,” Torbic said. “As ethical and moral considerations change in engineering, we want our ceremony to adapt.”

Torbic, Scoggins, Rogers and Mallicoat each drafted language for their major disciplines, leaving the others to be determined.

Since the team members are all graduating, Torbic passed their plan on to rising fourth-year students with the hope that a future class will run with the idea. They think the appeal is there.

“I thought it was a really cool way to encourage students to practice ethics,” Rogers said. “It has been fun to think about what is important to the engineering school and highlighting those aspects. I know that other schools, like the nursing school, have a ceremony to get their white coats, so it would be cool to see engineering do something similar.”

Mallicoat agreed, saying the ceremony and memento are tangible symbols, not just of their technical education, but of the work they put into their science, technology and society classes, too.

“I believe something like this could be used as a sort of reminder for what was learned during our time here and why we need to apply it,” Mallicoat said.

As far as fulfilling the requirements of the assignment, Neeley thinks the team nailed it.

“Engineering ethics is often treated as a ‘one and done’ course rather than the lifelong pursuit of excellence and meaning,” she said. “The students took a creative and practical approach that provides a reminder of their ethical obligations but more importantly articulates the reasons they decided to become engineers. What they accomplished in this project reminded me of why I became an educator.”